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Category: American History

Book Review: Can It Happen Here? Authoritarianism in America
(Cass Sunstein, ed.)

Cass Sunstein has gathered an ensemble cast of today’s intellectual Davoisie (several of whom taught me in law school) to tell us, in seventeen separate essays, whether Trump is the harbinger of American structural doom, and if so, how.  It is illuminating to read this book immediately after having read Glenn Reynolds’s The Judiciary’s Class War, with its distinction between the ruling Front-Row Kids and the ruled Back-Row Kids. This is because ultimately nearly all the authors presented here believe that “it” can’t, or is extremely unlikely to, “happen here,” because they expect the Front-Row Kids to be able to stop “it.”  That is, in different ways but with the same result, the authors expect that people just like them will continue to rule, Trump and the peasants be damned.

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Book Review: Windfall: How the New Energy Abundance Upends Global Politics and Strengthens America’s Power
(Meghan O’Sullivan)

A few weeks ago, I watched a bad movie on Netflix—The Cloverfield Effect.  This near-future science fiction film (distantly related to the original Cloverfield, an updated Godzilla-type movie) revolved around a disastrous attempt to generate unlimited energy in space, needed because the entire world was “two years from running out of all energy.”  Yes, that’s really as stupid as it sounds.  But Meghan O’Sullivan is here to tell us that just as stupid is the idea that we’re running out of fossil fuels, within any time frame that matters.  And she is further here to tell us what that means, for our economy, our global position, and for the future stability of the world, both geopolitically and environmentally.

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Book Review: The Judiciary’s Class War (Glenn Harlan Reynolds)

In this brief book, or rather pamphlet in the old political, Tom Paine-ish use of that term, law professor and well-known blogger Glenn Reynolds offers some thoughts on how the class structure of the judiciary affects judicial decisions.  Rather than focus on the general class divide in American society, Reynolds focuses on that divide in the judiciary, which he shows is deeper than that in America as a whole.  He believes the judicial divide is especially pernicious to our political system, and he offers some constructive solutions to the problem, although I think that those solutions both would be ineffective in practice and that the problems are deeper than Reynolds believes.

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Book Review: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (Edmund Morris)

This is a forty-year-old biography that is as fresh today as it was in the 1970s.  The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt is the best-known of modern biographies of Theodore Roosevelt, although it only covers his life up to his accession to the Presidency, in 1901.  It wholly warrants its reputation—the writing is clear and compelling, the facts are relevant and interesting, and the author, Edmund Morris, treats the man through the lens of his time, not with any jarring ideological overlay imported from today.  The reader feels like he is practically living in the time, and that is a hard trick to pull off, especially for eight hundred pages.


Book Review: The Betrayal of American Prosperity: Free Market Delusions, America’s Decline, and How We Must Compete in the Post-Dollar Era
(Clyde Prestowitz)

For decades, “free trade” has been the American orthodoxy across the mainstream of both Left and Right.  Some recent erosion has occurred, though, with the Bernie Sanders Left dividing from the neoliberal Left on this issue, and with the reactionary and Trumpian segments of the Right dividing from the corporatist Right.  However, cogent, clear-eyed intellectual support has been thin for the position that wholly unfettered and unguided free trade is not necessarily a wonderful tonic for every economy.  This 2010 book provides such support, and was an early entrant in a field that will, perhaps, become more crowded over time.


Book Review: Age of Fracture
(Daniel T. Rodgers)

When I first started reading this book, which I pulled more or less at random off my shelf, I was a little mystified why I had bought it.  I thought, from its title, it would be political philosophy, but instead it was intellectual history, of the last quarter of the twentieth century.  The book seemed crisp and dispassionate at first, though it quickly revealed itself as somewhat meandering and biased.  After a little research, I realized that in 2012 Age of Fracture had won the Bancroft Prize, awarded to books of American history.  Most people probably haven’t heard of the Bancroft Prize, but it is regarded as very prestigious, so I must have bought this book because it was publicized in that context.  But when I finished reading it, the more I thought about it, the more I disliked this book.

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Book Review: Mormon Country
(Wallace Stegner)

Wallace Stegner, writer about the American West, is famous mostly for his novel Angle of Repose.  This book is not famous, but it is worth reading.  Mormon Country is a travelogue centered on the areas settled by the Mormons—basically Utah, of course, but also parts of Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming, Arizona, and New Mexico.  It is not a book about Mormons, though they appear prominently; it is about the country, as it was in the 1930s.  Stegner did not write this book to make a point.  There is no ideological overlay, and Stegner is neither pushing nor denigrating Mormonism.  He was not Mormon, but he respects them and their culture.  Mormon Country draws a picture of the area and its history, as of the time of writing, and offers intriguing tales (many of which have modern postscripts).

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Book Review: Why Liberalism Failed (Patrick J. Deneen)

Poor Francis Fukuyama.  He has been a punching bag ever since he unwisely declared the End of History, more than twenty-five years ago.  Fukuyama, of course, meant that the globe had, at the end of ideologies, reached an equilibrium, an even, calm sea of liberal democracy, and all that was left was cleanup.  Patrick Deneen is here to kick Fukuyama some more, and to announce that not only is liberalism a defective ideology, it is doomed just as were the other, more flash-in-the pan ideologies.  The systemic failure of liberalism is on the horizon, or underway, and Deneen’s project is to offer thoughts on how we got here, and what is next.  Thus, Why Liberalism Failed fits squarely into my current interest, Reaction—the call for the creation of a new political order built on the ashes of the old.


Book Review: Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor (Clinton Romesha)

Americans have always liked fighting stories: autobiographical and third person, fictional and non-fictional.  From dime novels about outlaws and Indians to, more recently, war movies, Americans have vicariously enjoyed American combat, and American successes in combat.  There are even meta fighting stories: an organizing frame of Clint Eastwood’s movie Unforgiven is a biographer trailing Eastwood’s character to write a dime novel.  As far as the recent Afghanistan and Iraq wars, early movies (i.e., under Bush) were mostly high-profile flops attacking America (Rendition; Lions for Lambs).  Later movies (i.e., under Obama, where it was no longer regarded as necessary by those controlling the film industry to attack Bush rather than make profits) included some such, but moved toward depicting American heroism (Lone Survivor; American Sniper).  Not incidentally, those two latter movies were based on autobiographical books, rather than the fever dreams of Hollywood leftists, and this book, Clinton Romesha’s Red Platoon, falls squarely into that genre.

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Book Review: The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker
(Katherine J. Cramer)

In the past few years, a variety of liberal academics have adopted a Gorillas in the Mist sensibility when trying to understand conservatives.  Like Dian Fossey, they creep, wearing a ghillie suit, through thick and steamy jungles alien to them, hoping to grasp what it is that makes these creatures tick.  Sometimes they become fond of these primates, and in their own clumsy way, try to improve their lives by protecting them from threats they appear too dumb to see.  Like Fossey, most of them are obsessives with tunnel vision, bound in chains by premises invisible to them.  Katherine Cramer, author of The Politics of Resentment, fits right into this model, even if Wisconsin is a long way from Rwanda, and a lot colder.  She offers us a book that is half morality play, half sociology study, and all clueless.

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